Biofeedback uses the mind–body connection for therapeutic purposes. Biofeedback involves the use of machines to monitor bodily functions such as heart rate, pulse, or muscle tension. An individual undergoing biofeedback attempts to consciously alter one of these presumably “involuntary” bodily processes. The use of biofeedback has been investigated for many medical conditions.

Benefits of Biofeedback for People with MS

Biofeedback may have applications for multiple sclerosis (MS)-related symptoms. MS symptoms that may be responsive to biofeedback include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bladder problems (incontinence)
  • Bowel problems (constipation, incontinence)
  • Pain
  • Sleeping problems

For anxiety and insomnia, which may be significant problems in MS, biofeedback may be beneficial by promoting relaxation. It also may be helpful in treating some types of pain, such as:

However, the use of biofeedback to treat MS-associated pain has not been formally studied.

Other Benefits of Biofeedback

Some research suggests that biofeedback may be helpful for people with urinary incontinence, a problem that may occur in MS. Medications and pelvic exercises are available for incontinence. These approaches may not be fully effective, however, and the medications may have undesirable side effects. Some, but not all, studies for biofeedback treatment of urinary incontinence have reported positive results—a few of these positive studies have been in MS. Biofeedback may be especially effective for people who have difficulty knowing which muscles to contract during the performance of pelvic exercises. Studies must be done to more fully evaluate biofeedback therapy for urinary incontinence.

People with MS also may experience bowel problems, including constipation and incontinence. In studies of people with MS and other medical conditions, biofeedback has produced beneficial effects on constipation and incontinence.

Biofeedback is currently under investigation for a wide range of other symptoms, some of which may occur in people with MS. These research studies are preliminary and use specialized equipment that is not currently available for widespread use. In these studies, promising results have been obtained with depression, walking difficulties, muscle stiffness (spasticity), and cognitive function.

An interesting issue is whether biofeedback may be used to regulate the immune system and, conceivably, thereby alter immune diseases such as MS. Variable effects of biofeedback-induced relaxation on immune function have been obtained; no consistent results have been reported.

Potential Side Effects of Biofeedback

Biofeedback is usually very well tolerated. In the case of electrodermal biofeedback, people with heart conditions and pacemakers should be cautious and should discuss the treatment with their physician. Biofeedback should be done with medical supervision in those with psychosis or severe personality disorders. Biofeedback—and other methods that may promote relaxation—may occasionally cause anxiety, dizziness, disorientation, and floating sensations.

Self-operated biofeedback devices are available, but biofeedback monitoring is a complex process that is most likely to be helpful when it is performed by a qualified practitioner.